Editor’s Letter: Boots on the Ground


davidafghanistanWhen a global issue gets personal.

It never felt like a war, not to me. From the confines of my life in Austin, what our deployed military personnel experienced during Operation Enduring Freedom seemed far away and often forgotten. When my brother, David, deployed to Afghanistan as an Army infantry officer in 2011 and again in 2014, the war still felt like an abstraction, only more urgent. You would never tell from reading emails we sent one another. They read like two guys with jobs talking about their careers: frustrations with our bosses, or projects we were working on that we thought could get us promoted. During his nearly yearlong deployments, I assumed that when I sent him an email I would eventually get one back, and lucky for me I did. But there was always the chance that he would get hurt or worse, and that colored each conversation in a way I had never experienced.

Only occasionally would the subject of American foreign policy come up. We talked about it with polite reserve. I felt neither the credibility nor the authority to opine to him on what was going on or what our nation’s policies should be. I would mostly send links to articles I’d read and ask for his feedback. Sometimes he found the time to write back, but more often than not he was too busy implementing what had already been decided. We didn’t really talk about the war, certainly not the nitty-gritty. Over the last few years I’ve managed to pick up scraps of information from conversations I’ve overheard between him and other guys who had been “down range” or “in the suck,” as they called it. It was only when they were with each other that they actually talked.

One night, some of David’s friends came over to the apartment he and I shared in Washington, D.C., and after a few rounds of Scotch they got to telling war stories. The policy talk around Washington surrounded training the Afghan army. David’s friends were Marines, and they reminisced about their experiences training Afghan soldiers. One day, one of them gave instructions to his Afghan troops to return to their barracks and be back in 15 minutes in combat gear. A quarter of an hour later, as he inspected them, he noticed something strange: Several were wearing boots with no laces. Apparently they had stripped them out to sell them, not caring that it rendered their boots useless for actual combat. That image—of trainees wearing boots without laces—suddenly made the war, and the obstacles our troops faced as they conducted it, much less abstract.

In December, the remaining combat troops in Afghanistan returned home; my brother arrived back a few months earlier. With their arrival, America’s longest war came to an end, but for David and so many others in the military the question is always what’s next. Our cover article, by two experts on national security policy, explores what America’s role in the world should be, and what our foreign-policy posture should look like. The threat of ISIS, an emboldened Vladimir Putin, China bullying its neighbors in the South Pacific—these are all topics they discuss. When I finished reading, it made me think: I wonder what my brother would say. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the best part of emailing the story to him was not having to wonder whether he would write me back.


Tags: , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment